Our Kev: An airbag came out – and our afternoon of puzzling was over

Our Kev: An airbag came out – and our afternoon of puzzling was over

EVERY so often, you come across a bodge that makes your eyes water at the sheer stupidity or ignorance of the original perpetrator.

And, as I’ve said before in this column, just when you think you’ve seen it all, along comes one that makes you draw an even sharper intake of breath than ever before.

I encountered one such delight last week, when a new customer came to us with his elderly Mondeo, which was due its MoT. We’ve picked up a few customers lately from the same source, as they all used a local garage that had served the small town in which we’re based for decades, up until the owner’s retirement in the summer.

Derek, the garage owner, was a lovely chap, but also had a bit of a reputation for turning a blind eye to some of the pages in the MoT manual, especially if a) the customer was a long-term regular and b) it was one of the ‘new’ MoT rules that Del decided didn’t apply to a garage with such a longstanding heritage as his own.

On this occasion, the MoT rule that was gleefully overlooked was the one around the ‘SRS’ light on a car’s dashboard. Up until 2013, an illuminated SRS light was not a reason for failure. After all, a few years back an airbag was a gimmick, found only on high-end cars and Volvos, and not a mandatory safety measure.

Don’t get me wrong. Del would never put his customers in clear and present danger. For example, the Mondeo we were testing had, I could see from the previous MoT readout, a few quid spent on it last year on a pair of tyres, a brake pipe and some very well-executed welding to the rear edges of both sills. Indeed, after forking out pretty much its entire worth on the previous year’s test, the owner confidently told us that he didn’t think we’d find much to deny it a test certificate this year.

And to be fair to him, we didn’t. We advised on a small crack in the windscreen, but it was out of the swept area and thus not a failure point, and also advised on some surface corrosion on the underside, not considered excessive. But where we did fail the car was on the illuminated SRS light.

We called the owner, who told us that the light had been on since a week after he’d bought the car five years previously and that he’d never got it fixed as Del had never failed it, but if we felt we had to, then he guessed we should try to mend it.

Of course, we didn’t just ‘feel’ we had to, we had a legal obligation, so we set off to trace the fault, assuming it’d be something as trivial as a fuse, a bad connection in the wiring for the seatbelt pretensioners or (the most common cause of SRS light illumination) the connector block under the driver’s seat, where wires had cracked from the seat being slid fore and aft.

After an afternoon of puzzling and head scratching, neither of which fixed the problem, we were left with only one option – to take the airbag itself out for inspection. And that’s when the source of the problem became immediately apparent.

At some point in its earlier life, the Mondeo had obviously taken a shunt significant enough for the airbag to be deployed. And rather than replace the blown airbag unit, whoever had ‘repaired’ it had done so not by replacing the airbag unit, but by stuffing its mortal remains back into the hole in the steering wheel and then sealing it all shut with gaffer tape. It had worked for a while, insofar as the airbag unit had held itself into the steering wheel enough to complete the electrical circuit (by pushing it in hard enough, you could get the SRS light to go off), but to think that some unscrupulous trader had, at some point, thought it acceptable to sell the car in such a condition was alarming to say the least.

What was even more astonishing was the customer’s reaction. Having procured a guaranteed used airbag from a specialist breaker for the princely sum of £35, charged him £20 for fitting and not billed him a bean for the time we spent diagnosing the fault (I, wrongly, decided this was unfair), all he did when he came to collect the car was whinge about that and the MoT costing him another hundred quid he didn’t have and telling us, ‘It wouldn’t have been like that if Derek had still been in town’.

It’d be wrong to wish misfortune upon him, but a sneaky little part of me hopes that, one day, that airbag saves his life. Or at least his teeth. As that’s the only way he’ll learn his lesson…

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